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Social Security fraud schemes hit home

Though we may often think of identity theft as happening from behind a computer -- some anonymous hacker the victim is randomly chosen by -- this may not always be the case. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently investigated identity-fraud rings and found that many of them specifically target friends and family.

There are more than 10,000 identity-fraud rings operating in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal and ID Analytics, an identity fraud prevention company. Many of these rings operate by changing one digit in the Social Security number in order to manipulate identities. They then apply for credit cards, mobile phones and other expenditures which can be traced back to the innocent party.

In one case, there were 15 people involved in the ring who were all family members or friends who were taking part in the scam. Both identity theft and identity manipulation were used by this ring which ID Analytics investigated and were part of taking down.

As always, it is important to safeguard Social Security numbers. For example, insurance providers carry the number, so it isn't necessary to give it to doctors or to medical facilities where it might be used or sold for identity theft. It should already be in any needed records, and so providing it freely could result in identity theft.

Many people who are taken by scams like this one are elderly and don't quickly realize that they have been used. It is important to remain vigilant about this personal information.

Source: Market Watch, "How a neighbor stole your identity," Jennifer Waters, Dec. 10, 2012

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